Carlisle believes Pacers could be title contenders


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Feb. 2, 2012 - When it comes to identifying a contender, Rick Carlisle qualifies as an expert.

And the head coach of the defending NBA champions believes the Pacers have the right stuff.

"I'm extremely impressed with them," Carlisle said. "It's so great to see Larry (Bird)'s vision be realized because he knew this was going to take some time. He knew he was going to have to be opportunistic with acquiring veteran players to go with (Danny) Granger and some of the young pieces.

"The David West acquisition was brilliant. It was so typical of Larry. He studied it, there was a health issue there but they've got as great a medical staff there as anybody in the league but they analyzed it and realized there wasn't the risk a lot of teams probably thought there was. The reality is, at this point, they're one of a handful of teams that's a legit contender for a title."

As are Carlisle's Mavericks, who host the Pacers Friday (8:30 p.m., Fox Sports Indiana, WIBC 93 FM). There has been some roster reconstruction around the key components but the veteran core of Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Jason Terry and Shawn Marion is intact. After a slow start, they've rebounded nicely and are back in the thick of things in the Western Conference.

The Mavs lost Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea, DeShawn Stevenson, Caron Butler and Peja Stojakovic. The key additions are Lamar Odom and Delonte West. As a result of the turnover, the Mavs are in the unusual position of being both a defending champ and an underdog.

"If you view it as a different kind of challenge and something you're going to be determined to get through and do your best at, then I think it's a great opportunity," Carlisle said. "And that's how we're viewing it. That's the tack we're taking. There are challenges but there are challenges for every team.

"Our team is in a unique position because we didn't bring back everybody from last year on the one hand but on the other hand we added some guys that are terrific players. Getting everybody integrated and everything is a challenge that I'm embracing. We're going to get through it and I think we're going to be a terrific team before it's said and done."

The compressed nature of the season could pose a greater challenge for Dallas' veteran roster than most. Dirk Nowitzki recently returned from a four-game hiatus to rest his knee and allow extra conditioning time, and a roster that carries eight players born in the 1970s will need special handling.

If anyone knows how to improvise in unusual circumstances, it's Carlisle. After guiding the Pacers to a franchise record 61 wins in 2003-04, he brought a title contender into the following season but things quickly fell apart after that fateful November night in Auburn Hills, Mich. With a patchwork roster depleted by mass suspensions, he nursed that team to the playoffs.

"Look, that comes in handy this year for us because we've got a dose of unusual things going on," he said. "We've got a compressed schedule, we've got a very deep roster but not a roster that people tend to feel has very much of a chance so we like that challenge. I enjoy this group and thoroughly enjoy coming in every day.

"This is not a typical situation for a championship team but in analyzing everything and considering all things it was probably the right decision for the franchise going forward. It'd be one thing if we just got rid of all our veteran players and went young and were going to get our brains beat in for three years but that's not what we're doing. We acquired some really good veteran players and we're still in that hunt."

Given the unusual nature of this season, Carlisle wouldn't be surprised if both the Mavs and Pacers raised eyebrows in the postseason.

"It's wide open, both sides of the Mississippi," he said. "It's a very interesting year competitively and I believe the Pacers are going to be right in the middle of it. They're a team that's going to be a little bit under the radar just because they don't have all the major household names but they're young, they've become veteran and they're hungry.

"They've got all the ingredients of championship teams -- they've got athleticism, length, skill and size. They're going to be a major factor."

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